Celtics-Lakers: 5 Things to Watch

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With the Lakers and Celtics renewing their epic rivalry this afternoon, it’s time to look ahead at what we’re witnessing when the two face-off at Staples Arena at 3:30 p.m. EST. It’s the NBA’s oldest, best, and most celebrated rivalry and despite the turning point both teams are facing in their history. Here are five things to watch today when the Lakers host the Celtics.

1. End of an Era: This is the end of Lakers-Celtics 2000’s. A rivalry reborn in 2008 when they met in the Finals, a series famous for a dramatic Lakers collapse, Paul Pierce’s wheelchair episode which Lakers fans hold onto like a pitbull with flank steak, and the celebration of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen in their first championship. The rivalry took a year off, most believe due to a Kevin Garnett knee injury which ended his season in April. And then of course the 2010 re-match, a Lakers victory famous for Kendrick Perkins’ knee injury which gave the Celtics their out card, Ron Artest’s biggest play as a Laker, and a big revenge game for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. But it’s a near-lock these teams will not look the same next year.

Even if the Lakers keep their core, the Celtics are very unlikely to keep both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. There will be changes. The rivalry will sustain, but you should enjoy this last meeting between two behemoths that have defined the NBA over the past five seasons.

2. Mentally Unstable: Both teams are suffering from the strain of the trade deadline. The Lakers are constantly under a haze of rumors. The Celtics’ management has been proactive in getting the word out that their players are not actively being shopped. True or not, it changes how they’re behaving. They’re smart enough to know they could still be traded, but it makes them feel a little better. The Lakers meanwhile are having team meeting after team meeting to try and move past that pressure. Its’ not a good situation.

3. Bad Blood Is Fun: Paul Pierce and Metta World Peace know each other. They know most everything about each other. And yet they will have the same battle they’ve had for years. Artest will battle and body him. Pierce will draw fouls and create space. This game could hinge on which Pierce shows up. If it’s the tired, worn-out Pierce that can’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, it could get bad. If it’s the Pierce that loves beating the Lakers and has been showing up over the past month, this game is going to be tight, exciting and primed for a dose of the Truth.

4. Being Taller Is Better: Kevin Garnett plays center at times. Chris Wilcox has been out, Brandon Bass is a stretch four in the purest sense. Stiemsma is not a good matchup. The Lakers have the tallest and arguably best frontcourt in the league. The Celtics are going to have to swarm them immediately in the post and hope to create a bad night for them.

5. Which Masked Mamba?: Kobe Bryant is everything for everyone this season. Scoring 40 points, averaging 30-ish. Shooting a ton. Getting Bynum involved at times. Ignoring him at others. Hitting incredible shots. Missing stupid shots. (Hint: they look the same.) If the Celtics-killing, jaw-jutting, most-dangerous-man-in-the-game shows up, the Celtics might as well pack it in and go home. If the gunning, turnover-prone, reminder-of-age shows up, the Celtics could exploit the Lakers’ tendencies and run away on the road. There’s no way to stop Kobe. You just have to hope the bad version shows up.

Nike “very concerned” after LeBron James’ jersey rips on opening night

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In the team’s first preseason game, the jersey of the Lakers’ Tyler Ennis was torn in the back with a tug from an opponent. Everyone made tearaway jersey jokes and moved on, thinking it was a one-off situation.

Then LeBron James‘ jersey ripped down the back on opening night, on national television.

Now Nike is looking into the issue, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN.

Nearly three days after one of its jerseys tore in the first regular-season game of its new deal with the NBA, Nike released a statement Friday expressing worry about the issue, without offering insight as to what happened or what will be done.

“The quality and performance of all our products are of utmost importance,” the company said in a statement. “We are obviously very concerned to see any game day jersey tear and are working with the NBA and teams to avoid this happening in the future.”

This is the first year Nike has the NBA apparel contract, having just taken it over from Adidas. They made the jerseys similar to what had been done for the 2016 Rio Olympics, where there were no issues, but these jerseys are lighter than the former Adidas ones. It’s unclear what, if any, changes could be coming.

Like many of the jerseys from opening night, LeBron’s ripped one is being auctioned by the NBA to raise money for hurricane relief.

Reports: Rockets think Chris Paul could be sidelined for up to a month

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The Rockets’ opening night win over the Warriors was a boost to their confidence — they believe they can challenge the Warriors next May in the playoffs.

Chris Paul is a big part of that plan, which is why we may not see him for up to a month (even though he is listed as day-to-day, and officially only out Saturday). With that, the Rockets are considering adding another point guard to the roster. Marc Stein of the New York Times and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news Friday afternoon.

At the top of the free agent point guard list is Jameer Nelson, the veteran was just waived by Denver to make room for Richard Jefferson.

C.J. Watson and Trey Burke also are available.

Chris Paul and Harden still need to smooth out playing together, something that will take time on the court together. CP3 being out until mid-November is not ideal, but the Rockets are thinking about May, and ideally June, so they will sacrifice a few games now to have him healthy then.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

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DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.